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As Chancellor George said in my introduction, this represents the 108th consecutive commencement of the University of Missouri-St. Louis that I have attended. It also means that I have attended every commencement in the history of this campus' history. That will cause most of you immediately to ask, "How crazy is this man?" I do understand that, and I will talk a little later about why I don't see it as being quite so crazy.
First, let me reflect for a moment on the fact that I have listened to 107 other commencement speeches and the thing that stands out about most of those speeches is their length. There seems to be a positive relationship between the quality of the speech as perceived by the listener and its brevity. I want you to think of this as a quality speech, and in order to facilitate that I have brought my watch. Further, the good news is that I know how to read it.
Now to the matter of why in the world would someone attend so many commencements. The answer lies in the first point that I would make this evening. Commencements are appropriate and necessary celebrations of significant accomplishment. My attending so many commencements had to do with my desire to celebrate a meaningful achievement with our graduates Going to commencement for me is every bit an important part of my faculty member obligation as is showing up to teach class.
Each of you here has your own story as to how long and difficult this task of completing your degree has been. For each of you in your own way, tonight's accomplishment deserves to be a celebration for you, your family, and your close friends who have been a part of your degree seeking conquest. So the first thing I want to leave you with is that today is a day which should be unashamedly a day of celebration.
The second thing that I would like to encourage you to do as a graduate of UMSL is to honor the past. Many of you graduates have experienced the opening of the Millennium Student Center and more recently the completion of this Touhill Performing Arts Center while you were students. Yet, those students who will enroll here for the first time this fall will take these buildings and every other attribute of UMSL for granted. They will enjoy these new facilities, use our new parking garages but have little understanding of what a "big deal" these accomplishments represent. It is for that reason that I would encourage you, as you celebrate your degrees, to give some thought to honor the activities of the past that have made your degrees and their substantial worth possible.
One of the best ways I know of honoring the past is to tell the stories of the persons and events that have shaped it. As I was preparing for this talk, it struck me that I was in a unique position to do that at this graduation from the Barnes College of Nursing, the joint Engineering Program and the College of Business Administration.
As the former Dean of the College of Business Administration for 15 years, I obviously am in a position to reflect upon it and its significance to the campus, but I also have some insight to the development of our College of Nursing and its merger with Barnes College during a period when I was serving as Deputy to Chancellor Blanche Touhill. Further, it was during the period of time when I was serving as Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs that we negotiated the joint undergraduate engineering program with Washington University. Let me reflect briefly on the development of each of these colleges, specifically in a manner which will give you graduates a greater understanding for, and pride in, for the degrees which you will shortly hold.
It has always been a vision of those of us on this campus that we would have an engineering program. As a matter of fact, I can recall arguments during our first long-range plan as to whether or not we would begin undergraduate engineering in the fall of 1972 or whether we would have to wait until 1973. Oh, what optimists we were! Because, of course, it was 20 years later before we were able to introduce engineering as an option for students in our service community. Even then, it had to be a program for people who could be described as non-traditional. That is, those who were slightly older and who would be pursuing the program on a part-time basis.
Why did this take so long? The answer lies in a number of factors. The cost of establishing the program certainly could be said to be one, but the main reason was the existence of two schools of engineering within the Missouri system and the misplaced assumption that students in St. Louis who wanted to pursue engineering were not place bound. Happily the cooperative program we developed with Washington University allowed us to avoid the purchase of expensive duplicate equipment and more efficiently use the facilities and resources which Washington University already possessed. Clearly the graduates we recognize tonight are products of a unique public-private partnership which without harm to them provides essential public education at a reasonable cost to Missouri taxpayers.
Our first nursing degrees were offered in 1983 when our School of Nursing was given the right to offer an undergraduate Bachelor of Science completion degree. This meant that for the first time at the University of Missouri-St. Louis those residing in the state's largest city and an internationally recognized health center could be given additional training and a baccalaureate degree to those who already possessed a registered nurse certificate. The importance of our merger with the Barnes College of Nursing is emphasized by the fact that it was only through that merger that the University of Missouri-St. Louis obtained the right to offer a 4-year baccalaureate degree in nursing to students who had began their career here as a freshman.
Why did it take the merger with Barnes College to grant our students this option in such an important medical center? I guess it would have to be the fact that others who already possessed that right appeared to do everything possible to limit UMSL expansion to meet the needs of our constituents. This is the reason that our work to negotiate an effective merger stands so strategically in my mind.
The College of Business Administration represents a story that is less dependent upon a specific event of partnership or merger in its history, but one that has been more independent upon steady and significant growth. We have been granting degrees in business administration since our first class graduated in 1967. Many of our founding faculty (those who joined us during our first 10 years) have retired, moved to other opportunities, or reached their final reward. Happily, a few of founding faculty are still with the university in various capacities and represent the kind of dedication to students and campus that has always prided its faculty.
Again, as with the nursing and engineering graduates, our business graduates enjoy the production of many years of hard work by a faculty that was dedicated to providing the best training for graduates who ultimately would be employed in the St. Louis community. Happily we have seen any number of these individuals recognized by our alumni associations and by our campus.
What do these stories have in common? They are stories of a faculty who is dedicated to provide the very best for our students and a faculty and administration that would not take no for an answer when no was not in the interest of the university, our students, or our community. This is the reason that I encourage you to understand the struggle that accompanied our ability to award you these degrees and honor the individuals and the institution that has made that possible.
The third request of you today that as of you in you own way make a commitment to do your part to see that the logical future of this institution not be smothered. As a public institution serving the state's largest population with a faculty that is exceptionally talented, the University of Missouri-St. Louis can and should be one of those institutions founded in the decade of the late 50's and early 60's who will cast a long shadow on the educational landscape. We are on the right trajectory. That trajectory may not be as steep or as rapid a climb as some of us would have liked, but nonetheless we are headed year after year in the right direction. Importantly, we have avoided making a fatal mistake that would have put us on the wrong course. It is my challenge to you our graduates to make sure that this institution continues to be nourished in ways that will allow it to reach its full potential. Be assured that job will not be easy. Every chancellor in the history of UMSL has had to argue about equity for this campus. As recently as last spring, Chancellor George had to argue to make sure that equity money forwarded by the legislature for this campus would come to support our students and our faculty. He will need your help and others that follow him will continue to need your help.
It has been a significant honor to be asked to give this commencement address in the month of my pending retirement. Please remember three things: take time to celebrate your achievements, continue to honor those who have brought you and this campus this far, and make the commitment that 45 years from now – when the campus celebrates its 82nd anniversary – the University of Missouri-St. Louis will be an even greater, more productive and prestigious institution.